Top tips for doing business in the US

Published on April 26th, 2022

Doing business in the USA - city buildings and flag

Globalization and digitalization have completely changed the way business is done all around the planet. One of the best ways for a business to leverage this market transformation is to expand into a new market, and the U.S. is one of the most versatile and richest markets in the world.

Pursuing business options in the largest economy in the world means outstanding opportunities for achieving your professional aspirations. The U.S. work culture has already had a huge influence on businesses globally. In fact, most of the commonly used leadership, management and organizational strategies have evolved from those developed in the U.S., so learning about the American business culture is a sensible time investment.

We should mention that there are significant East-West differences in the U.S. (and even North-South) but as a general rule, following these tips should help you be more effective throughout the United States.

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Here are the top 8 tips for organizational and professional behavior you should have in mind when doing business in the US:

1. Straightforward and open communication is key

Americans tend to be quite open and direct in communication. Be assertive and kind to business partners – a firm handshake complemented with a smile and direct eye contact is a good start. Show your confidence and respect when doing business in the US. In most cases, it is not disrespectful to call business partners by their first name. If you are uncertain, you can politely ask how they would like to be addressed.

According to the BBC article How Americans Do Business “U.S. business culture is typically less formal and less hierarchical than other countries. All in all, creating a casual atmosphere can get you far in business connections and opportunities.

2. Stick to the rules 

Assertive and open communication will help you get a signed contract, and respecting the obligations you agreed to will get you even further. American business partners will always insist on clear and comprehensive contracts if they are to take you seriously. Your American partner will negotiate in good faith but will include a fairly detailed list of things to which both parties are bound both legally and ethically.

3. Be practical when doing business in the US

In the study Doing Business the American Way, the author states that “the rules of the US business game are clear: make as much money as you can, as fast as you can”, so it is no accident that American work culture gives credit to the motto “time is money”.

Most Americans see time as a tangible asset that can be saved, spent, invested or lost. Friendly small talk is a plus, but it is important to be direct and concise in communication and performance. Both your words and actions should be straight to the point and aimed at achieving the most efficient and effective results. Be punctual and mindful of set schedules.

4. Be diplomatic in conflict resolution 

Despite being clear in communication, do not rush to give open and direct criticism, especially to upper managers or new partners. Success is highly valued in a professional culture, so it is good to avoid situations that can be understood as a power play or disrespectful. Steer away from confrontation, be polite and resolve problems in a private setting, using a win-win approach. Send non-confrontational messages such as “I understand your point, however in order to resolve the issue…” – or “I see what you are concerned about, but”. Be constructive and focus on resolving the problem.

5. Negotiation skills are important

The idea that competitive markets are the best way to organize the economy spills over into day-to-day business norms. Negotiation competences are admired. A measured competitive approach will be highly valued in most businesses. Be ready to make bold moves and risks occasionally to stand out from your competition. 

The final stage of any negotiation with Americans is usually to get to the signed contract. Anything other than that is considered to be a symbolic gesture, be it a handshake or a spoken deal.

6. Show your dedication 

One of the core values in American society is hard work. The HSBC guide to the US says that “US employees work slightly longer hours than their global peers, according to the OECD. They also take fewer holidays.”

In that context, praise will be given to people who are motivated by achieving results and getting things done. Your superiors or important business partners need to see your ambition and that you above all value the work done. Equip yourself with a “can-do” attitude and focus on motivating others to reach business goals. 

7. Dress code

Most guides will suggest that the business dress code in the US is fairly conservative. In reality, dress codes depend a lot on the specific industry and other professional norms.

Don’t be afraid to be bold and unique, as standing out is usually seen as beneficial for your image when doing business in the US. Take a lookout at how your colleagues or partners are acting and follow their cues. It is always safe to be slightly overdressed at the beginning until you get familiarized with the specific organizational culture.

8. Be independent when doing business in the US

Americans strongly believe in the concept of individualism. Be ready to prove you are capable of being in control of your own work and achieving results as a one-person team. Be open to cooperation and dependability, but ready to do it yourself.

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